For quite a while now, “Saving Mr. Banks” has generated both positive reviews and even Oscar buzz during the film's pre-release period. Now that the film has been released, general audiences can see what all the talk is about.
"Saving Mr. Banks," the heart-warming and often humorous story of how Walt Disney brought the novel "Mary Poppins" to life on the big screen, is now in movie theaters across the United States. There is so much to love about this film, but parents should give consideration to the PG-13 warning if they are planning to bring young children to see it.
Although we know Disney's adaptation of "Mary Poppins" eventually earns five Academy Awards for Disney Studios, what many of us probably didn't know is that it took 20 years to produce. "Saving Mr. Banks" gives us that back story. The film shows how Disney's daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, but even Hollywood's animation genius could not easily persuade P.L. Travers to hand over control of her beloved nanny. With her finances in poor shape, though, Travers finally agrees to consider selling the rights during a two-week trip to California.
Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson star as Walt Disney and author P.L. Travers, respectively, and both performances are immensely convincing. Hanks plays the congenial yet savvy filmmaker, while Thompson is a persnickety woman who is unyielding in her opinions. Together, their interactions produce many memorable conversations and more than a few laughs.
How could anyone familiar with the Disney brand not chuckle when Travers first walks into her hotel room and sees that every surface is covered by plush cartoon characters and gift baskets. The over-the-top display has the opposite effect of what Disney intended. Still, in the end, the oversized Mickey Mouse stuffed animal becomes a touching symbol of her acceptance and their partnership.
But to get to that point, director John Lee Hancock has to explain why Travers has such a tight grip on Mary Poppins, who, Travers points out, is never called by just her first name. Hancock adeptly uses flashbacks throughout the movie to show Travers growing up in rural Australia. Her childhood, though filled with much love, was tainted by an alcoholic father (played by Colin Farrell) whose addiction cost him many jobs, the family's home in town, respect in the community and, ultimately, his life.
This theme is where the PG-13 rating comes into play. Most elementary-school-age children are going to have a hard time understanding the downward spiral of alcoholism, and "Saving Mr. Banks" does not shy away from showing the effects. Her father, Travers Goff, shows up drunk at a public ceremony and makes a spectacle of himself, embarrassing his family. He is reprimanded by his boss at the bank in front of his daughter. And, most disturbing -- though compelling -- is the scene where P.L. Travers (whose real name is Helen Lyndon Goff) sees her father's body right after he dies and his eyes are still open. That could be the stuff of nightmares for young children, especially if they don't understand the nuances of the story and the realistic effects used by the filmmakers to show death.
For adults, though, the context shows how the events of her childhood shaped P.L. Travers as an adult and influenced her writing. And that's what Disney finally understands will help him win over Travers -- proving that he will treat her memories with empathy in the film he wants to make. There is a real-life Mary Poppins, but it is not necessarily the nanny's reputation that Travers is concerned about. Instead, she wants her father remembered not just for his faults but also for his love of his family and her special bond with him.
"Saving Mr. Banks" really is a movie for older children and adults -- and as such, it's certainly an entertaining and memorable experience. Younger children, though, may delight in the film that is the subject of this movie, "Mary Poppins," which just has been re-released for its 50th anniversary.
DISCLAIMER: I viewed "Saving Mr. Banks" at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.
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